Opinion: His name, are their names, are our names.
It’s 2020 and we’re still having these conversations, except now the conversation is public, global and streamed live to your hand. People can simply switch their phones off or unfollow people not to ‘hear’ what is being said and ignore what they deem delicate to their constitution. It was easier before. Before snap, before insta, before facebook, before everything social media, to change channel or walk away and hide from it, because our worlds were smaller and didn’t connect. The worlds populace has no option now. Logged in or not, tech savvy or not, PhD level reader or not. Political leader, teacher, tradie, eco warrior, unemployed, or pubescent teen; if you haven’t heard of George Floyd by now - you’ve been living under a moss covered, eco packing peanut filled, bubble wrapped, cotton balled rock.
George Floyd. His name rings out across every country in the “civilised” world, from mouths tired of inequality. Tired of praying. Tired of waiting for their loved ones to come home every evening - alive. Tired of telling their loved ones to take care and be safe, knowing full well it could be the last time they see them - alive. Tired of having to remember what their loved ones wear everyday just in case they have to put posters up with descriptions later on to identify them or they have to identify them at a morgue. Another face sprawled across news articles, web pages and opinion columns - like Facebook. Another video capturing another murder. Another video capturing the murderers. Another family member lost in a sea of faces across social media. Another name we speak. Another name we shout. Another name we scream. Another life. Another reason to be fearful for the lives of not only Black America, but Native America, all People of Colour in America. All People of Colour around the world. The list is never ending and grows bigger every day. I am angry. Constantly so.
Another name in the long list of Black American names who have been slain, to add to the already long list of names that have been said aloud throughout history - another name to add to a list that reads like humanity’s “Dead for being Black/a Person of Colour” list.
Whose name will we shout tomorrow? Which ethnic group will they come from? Will it be someone I know?
I am more than just angry. I rage in the quiet. My blood boiling over a constant flame. Trying to make believe that those deemed our protectors of society are not here to harm, but to serve and protect (And most of them do protect and do serve the people well, let's not get twisted). I am trying to be calm when I think of my four children, my varied degrees of brown coloured sons. I tell myself that the death of George Floyd will bring justice for him, his family and every name said and not said, who deserves justice from race blinkered belligerence. From a race blinkered world. But I know the truth. I have been angry for decades. Angry since the 80’s. I have been in this state of mind since my own youth. I have seen and heard of these crimes all of my life. I have been victim to them without even being there, purely by way of having brown skin and now I cannot help but fear for my children. Will my children outlive these times? My eldest is 20, my youngest, 14 - it's possible. Will they fall into the trap and believe that if they are good members of society and adhere to societies rules that they will be seen for who they are, Māori, proud, manaaki tangata, tangata whenua, tangata moana; members of Aotearoa society with much to give, much to learn, but still young Māori members of society with much to sacrifice and much from which to be stolen.
I fear for and am angry for my sons, who are already a statistic by being born Māori. Already a statistic for being Māori and male. Māori, male and young. Māori, male, young who wear hoodies. Māori, male, young, who wear hoodies, trackpants and listen to any and all music - but the only music that identifies their race is that which claps on two and four, not one and three. Māori, male, young, who wear hoodies, trackpants and listen to any and all music, who are probably sick and tired of me reminding them that there is no way they’re walking out in public without wearing tidy clothes, so they don’t get accused of doing something while we’re out. Tired because they don’t want to feel as if they have to wear a top hat and tails whenever we go to Pak’n Save to buy groceries. It’s not right that out of all of my sons, the one I do not fear for as much is the one who looks more white. This is not to say that it doesn’t worry me that he could be a victim or bare witness to blind or casual racism, he does already and doesn’t even notice, but the fear is there and no matter if my sons become opera singers, roadworkers, artists, plumbers, beneficiaries, arborists, AFFCO workers or Prime Minister, the fear will always be there - because they are brown. Because they are People of Colour, because they are Māori. The historical and generational trauma is real and if ours is real, then what of our brothers and sisters of colour in America? What must their daily reality be?
I don’t know how many times I have talked to my sons about what to wear out of the house. I don’t know how many times I have talked to my sons about what to do if they see a police car pull up beside them when they are walking home from anywhere. I don’t know how many times I have watched my sons leave our home and mentally taken note of everything they wore that day, or how many times I’ve been thankful that they attend a boarding school, because if they are there, they are somewhat safe. I don’t know how many times I’ve told them the rules of walking into and out of a store with a bag on, filing out of any and all stores like we have nothing to feel guilty for but feeling guilty because we know we have to do it anyway to prove a point. I don’t know how many times I have woken up at night wondering whether I’ve done the right thing in teaching them to be cautious of this world. It worries me even if my sons start dating non-Māori girls purely based on the fact that as a culture there is always an uneasy look that “I” am usually given when my sons introduce me as their mother and people see how dark I am compared to their pāpā. My colour alone, seems to shock and dilate their eyes, which forcibly remain fixed on my face to prevent them from looking me up and down and those eyes let me know right there and then, that I have to bleach my voice in order to shade a part of my own culture, so as not to jeopardise my son or our culture. I have been a mixture of fearful and angry for my sons since before they were all born. I have been that mixture of fear and anger for myself since before I realised what I was confronting internally, trying to erase the melanin in my skin with janola, sand soap and a scrubbing brush as a six year old in Nana’s washhouse. Trying so hard to be fair, but ‘please (janola), do for me what you do for nan’s linen”. I have been that fearful and angry for People of Colour my whole life, because of the hurt and anguish I feel for the millions of people like me, caught on the outside of the blinkers. Like George Floyd.
George Floyd was a man who stood proudly as a family man, hardworking, community minded, sincere, kind. A man trying to move forward in a society already pinning him as something he was not, and his death speaks of the truths, depravity and decay that most if not all People of Colour witness in our present, while we stand on the outside of the blinkers.
Don’t look down when you say his name, because his name, are their names, are our names. #BlackLivesMatter.
He Kupu Mō Te Kaituhi:
He uri ahau nō Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa engari kei Kirikiriroa mātou ko tōku whānau e noho ana. I'm in my third year of a double BA Māori and Indigenous Studies and Te Reo Māori degree at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato.